If only the Internet Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s balloting counted for the real thing, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza would be joined by Edgar Martinez at the Cooperstown podium come July. The IBWAA’s annual exercise voted for Piazza two years ago and for Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines last year, so they weren’t on this year’s IBWAA ballot.
But Griffey and Martinez were on the ballot. I’d have been very hard pressed to see my fellow IBWAA writers not vote Griffey in, though we did something the Baseball Writers Association of America couldn’t quite do for Junior—we voted him yes unanimously, after all.
I’ll take my own wild guess and surmise that, in the case of the BBWAA, there were three writers who just had to figure Griffey such a shoo-in that—in light of the ten-player restriction on their ballots—they decided to let Griffey settle for merely busting Tom Seaver’s record for the highest vote percentage and use the spaces for other worthies.
And I’ll leave it there, while going forth to tell you just whom I voted for and why. After all, I’ve been outspoken enough on the need for transparency in BBWAA voting in the past, so—just as I did last year—it’s only right that I show the same transparency. Even if the IBWAA vote, realistically, is merely symbolic. Even if a decent portion of the voting IBWAA members also happen to be BBWAA members. (Yes, you can look it up.)
My votes may or may not dovetail to arguments I’ve made previously about the players in question. Arguing intellectually, as an observer, is one thing. Having a tangible if symbolic vote is another. The IBWAA vote may not apply to the actual Hall of Fame voting, but how could I reject the chance, indeed the responsibility to think and re-think previous arguments?
Those of us considered mere bloggers by many in the establishment press are not exclusively ranters alone. Many of us have been or are actual, practising members of the working press. I was myself, for many years, in small city/regional journalism, print and radio alike, as well as trade and non-blogging Internet journalism. I’d like to think that I and most of my IBWAA fellows are a little more than just bathrobe bleaters.
And I didn’t have to be asked to accept the responsibility of casting even a symbolic ballot without my own transparency, since I’d been critical in the past of any previous lack of BBWAA transparency. I will write only about those players for whom I voted yes, taking each alphabetically.
For the record, I hold no ridiculous anti-first-ballot bias. There are those Hall of Famers whose cases do require deeper analysis, but there are those who are only too obviously Hall of Famers on the ballot for the first time, and keeping them outside the door merely because they’re new to the ballot is fatuous and foolish.
Nor will I dismiss anyone who played during the era of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances merely because he played during that era.Unlike the Ken Gurnicks of the world, there’ll be no mere guilt by association here. It’s one thing to want to punish those players who were suspected of using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, but it’s something else entirely to decide anyone who played during the era should be considered suspect simply for having been there.
Now, about those who were suspected: Show me the evidence—not innuendo, not suspicion, not accusation, the evidence—that:
a) The player in question did use actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances; or—not and, or:
b) The substances in question actually did/do something for a player other than bulking him up or getting him healed quicker.
Show me that evidence. Or, show me where the Hall of Fame itself has offered any guidance—which it hasn’t, yet. I don’t know for dead last certain what actual or alleged PEDs did for particular players, and you don’t know for dead last certain, either.
These things we do know, and little if anything else:
* Baseball may have had a stricture on its books since 1971 against non-prescription use of prescription drugs, but specific strictures against amphetamines and actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances such as steroids and human growth hormone didn’t become against baseball law until 2005.
* Possession of non-prescription steroids became against the law law in 1991. Well, now. Assault and battery are also against the law. But you haven’t seen a rush to swear out arrest warrants against beanball pitchers or players swarming out of the dugouts and bullpens into bench-clearing brawls during which there have been assaults.
* “The game’s lax enforcement of its own  rule across the decades since and the writers’ willingness to do likewise by enshrining amphetamine users,” ESPN’s David Schoenfeld has written, “suggests to me that the issue today is less about the numbers or even guilt and innocence by the nebulous standards of ‘integrity, sportsmanship, and character,’ and more about writers going on about the immorality of steroids and stooping to playing make-believe about some players while doing so.”
(Writers and politicians, if you remember the rantings of Arizona Sen. John McCain and the hearings before the House Committee on Government Reform—derided at the time, by George F. Will, as the House Committee for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids—which had no actual, legitimate, consecrated authority to hold them on that issue in the first place.)
* Hank Aaron wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said, a few years ago, “I know that you can’t put something in your body to make you hit a fastball, change-up or curve ball.” (Or, for that matter, to make you throw a fastball, change-up, or curve ball the way a major league pitcher might be expected to throw them.) And Joe Sheehan (Baseball Prospectus, The Joe Sheehan Newsletter) wasn’t blowing smoke when he marshaled the actual, not the alleged data, and conjugated credibly that “The big lie is this: Steroids caused home runs and testing stopped home runs.”
* The foregoing should not be mistaken for an argument against the game’s continuing cleanup. But the arguments otherwise require real evidence, not innuendo; real provenance, not rhetoric.
Everyone still with me? Good, and thank you. Now, on with the show. (Incidentally, I voted for Bagwell and Raines last year.) As with last year, I’ll mark newcomers to the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot with #.
Barry Bonds—I think we know Himself—about to become the batting instructor for the Miami Marlins, by the way—was a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer before he was thought to begin playing with actual or alleged PEDs circa 1999, even as we know how many times we’ve heard plenty of non-harrumphing BBWAA members give the answer. (See above for the “rules” or the “law.”) Absent that issue his biggest problem might be how his attitudes and behaviours toxified his clubhouses, and he might end up waiting a BBWAA ballot or two before going in because of it. Still, quite a few of his teams went to the postseason and to one World Series, and it took a lot more than Barry Bonds to keep them from winning.
Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated makes a point: Remove Bonds’s seasons from 1999 through his retirement, he says, and you would still discover the following: 99.6 career wins above a replacement player (which would make him third among left fielders), a .967 lifetime OPS, and 62.4 WAR as peak value (which would make him second among left fielders).
I don’t have to like the man to vote for him. Not every Hall of Famer is going to turn out to be a Stan Musial, a Jackie Robinson, a Hank Aaron, a Yogi Berra, a Sandy Koufax, or an Ernie Banks. (Just to name one not named Ty Cobb, Ted Williams wasn’t exactly the sweetest soul in baseball, and his “Knights of the Keyboard” probably gritted their teeth voting him his MVPs and into the Hall of Fame.) But Jaffe’s isolated figures look like those of a Hall of Famer to me. That—plus the actual unknowability of what actual or alleged PEDs did for Bonds, to say nothing of baseball’s institution-wide failure to address the issue before he partook—means a yes vote.
Roger Clemens—See Bonds, Barry. Including the prickly personality, even if Clemens may not have been seen as half the kind of clubhouse poison Bonds was seen to be. He was an absolutely great pitcher before any suspicions of usage, court trials, acquittals, and an ongoing defamation lawsuit attached to him. (He’s also never failed a drug test, if that means anything.) He had an argument as one of the three greatest starting pitchers of all time, or close enough, before any such suspicions arrived.
One problem Clemens will have, of course, is the Hall of Fame’s shortening of BBWAA-voting eligibility for players to ten years, since Clemens hasn’t been on the ballot long enough to be grandfathered to the former fifteen-year wait. It’s not impossible that he might have to wait for a future Veterans Committee extant (the Expansion Era committee) to have a hope of going in. But if you want to ponder whether Clemens was a bona fide Hall of Famer before he’s suspected of dabbling, as with Bonds, he’d be a match for Pedro Martinez (who was elected first ballot last year) when covering just his Red Sox seasons and his first, Cy-Young winning season in Toronto.
On the other hand, it might be better for Clemens not to share a podium with Mike Piazza.
# Ken Griffey, Jr.—The only question about Junior’s Hall election proved to be how big would be his first-ballot percentage. Unfortunately, there will always be fools who question these things on fatuous grounds. And, believe it or not, I can remember people questioning Griffey especially in his Cincinnati years.
There were actually those who thought Griffey’s too-frequent injuries could be attributed to a failure to stay in shape. And I had to wonder: did these fools actually see him play the game as opposed to reading about yet another injury in the papers? It’s true that Griffey would have been a Hall of Famer by way of his Seattle seasons alone. But it’s also true that he missed plenty of significant playing time because of injuries—incurred not because of bad conditioning but because he played the game like he meant it, in the field and at the plate alike.
Watching him before the injuries finally began grinding him down in earnest was one of the genuine pleasures of his time no matter how his teams were doing, and he played on some pretty bad Mariners teams in addition to a few good ones. If it seemed like overnight he went from the eternal kid to a grumpy old young man (there was much criticism of Griffey’s clubhouse presence during those Cincinnati seasons), it begs the question of what it does to you that playing the game you love the way you’ve played it all your life finally begins and continues to cost you.
It came to a sad head when he returned to Seattle, helping perk up the team his first year back but a sad shell of his former self to start the second, even to the point of allegedly falling asleep in the clubhouse during the game. Nobody had to tell Griffey it was time to retire at last. He simply offered a short, honest statement—while he was on the road, driving all the way to his Florida home.
When I first wrote of Griffey’s ballot presence recently, I said he might be one of the ten or fifteen best center fielders ever to play the game. All around. Maybe that was underrating him; maybe he’s in a dead heat for number three or four with Tris Speaker. Both men could flat out hit; both were terrific baserunners; both were well-enough-above-league-average fielders (did you know Griffey is seventh all time for double plays as a center fielder?) who got to plenty of balls and whose errors were borne out of honest effort and not lazy or mispositioned play; both were tough enough to strike out when all was said and done (Speaker maybe more so) and both—no statistical evidence exists for Speaker, but anecdotal evidence suggests it—were a little tougher to catch in a double play.
And, yes, it’s very likely that Griffey would have hit more home runs than Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays if he could have stayed healthy. But I don’t think you’d sneeze at 630 bombs, either.
It would have been a genuine shock, I think, if Griffey didn’t become a first ballot Hall of Famer. Especially—it’s sad, but you have to think about this one as well, for better or worse—considering how many of the voting writers probably had it in the front of their minds that Griffey was never known or suspected to have dabbled even once with the actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances whose strongest known presence was during Griffey’s prime.
Not to mention how many of them joined how many fans in saying they wish Junior had been the one to bust the all-time home run record. But you don’t get to the Hall of Fame on wishes or might-have-beens or should-have beens. And Griffey didn’t need anything but his record, especially those incredible Seattle seasons, to get there.
# Trevor Hoffman—How does it feel to have a significant award named after you? Hoffman just might be able to tell you: the National League’s Relief Pitcher of the Year is named for him, just as the American League’s is named for Mariano Rivera. (For the record, Craig Kimbrel won the first Hoffman Award and, this year, Mark Melancon won the second.)
I don’t think you get real awards named after you if you’re any kind of baseball lamer. But it would have been nice, however, if Hoffman could have pitched for some better teams. He really only pitched on three real winners, the Padres’ National League West winners of 1996, 1998, and 2005-06.
And if you removed two gruesome home runs from his postseason flight jacket, Hoffman pitched very well in the postseasons he did reach. Atlanta’s Brian Jordan ruined him in Game Three of the 1996 division series with a tie-breaking two-run homer; and, of course, there was Scott Brosius’s World Series-turning three-run homer in the eighth of Game Three in 1998.
Of course there was also the 2007 wild card tiebreaker, in which Hoffman got touched for three extra base hits to lose the save and send the Padres to a rendezvous with Matt Holliday, his game-tying triple, and his game-winning score sliding over or past the back tip of the plate in the bottom of the twelfth.
Hoffman brooked no excuse and offered none. He never even mentioned the fact that he’d been warmed up several times earlier in the game and was probably spent by the time he took the mound at last. (Would you say he’d thrown the equivalent of six innings over those three or four previous warmups?) To this day those who were with the Padres speak mostly of how Hoffman faced the press and took full responsibility.
Hoffman became a Padre in the first place because of the club’s notorious 1993 fire sale; he went from the Florida Marlins to the Padres in the swap that sent Gary Sheffield and a no-name to the Fish while sending Hoffman and two no-names to the Padres. He took over closing in 1994, survived rotator cuff surgery after pitching in shoulder pain all 1995, developed his tricky changeup, which he gripped like a palm ball, and from then until his sad 2009 departure it was Trevor Time in San Diego if you didn’t count his missing most of 2003 after two off-season shoulder surgeries.
After Tony Gwynn’s retirement it was entirely fair to say Hoffman was the face of the franchise. But he picked the wrong time to struggle for thirty saves in 2008: owner John Moores’s pricy divorce imposed cost cutting on the Pads, and Hoffman refused a low-ball contract offer, signing with the Brewers where he had one fine season before struggling through elbow trouble—and landed in middle relief for spells—but still managed to land his 600th and 601st lifetime saves, a record destined to be smashed by The Mariano.
He only ever led the National League in saves twice (and he did that almost a decade part), but it’s his regular-season, career-value consistency that should have made Hoffman a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Granted that the Hall still hasn’t really figured out just what ought to be the standards for relief pitchers, but Hoffman pulls up at 159 on the Bill James Hall of Fame pitching monitor. The average Hall of Fame pitcher pulls up at 100.
Remember: they don’t name significant awards after you if your idea of being a fireman is arson. Or if you’re considered clubhouse poison. (If anything, Hoffman was considered clubhouse balm. Name one other relief pitcher about whom it was ever said that his teams were his teams.)
Edgar Martinez—Here we go again. Only this time it’s becoming a little bit harder to justify keeping a designated hitter out of the Hall of Fame now that Frank Thomas is in. On the Jamesian Hall of Fame measures, Martinez at bat shakes out as an average Hall of Famer. It’s just a shame that Mariano Rivera doesn’t have a Hall of Fame vote: It didn’t matter how I threw the ball. I couldn’t get him out. Oh my God, he had more than my number. He had my breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The only better designated hitter all-time was Frank Thomas if you take Thomas’s career overall. Martinez has a claim as the best by his hitting plus the fact that he spent 72 percent of his career as a DH. Martinez could flat out hit even in an era of batting statistics that weren’t inflated exclusively (if, really, at all) by actual or alleged PEDs. (How easy it is to forget the factors that really made the difference in offense inflation: the rash of new ballparks opening that were very friendly to hitters, and the volume of umpires squeezing strike zones tighter than a belt buckle or a postage stamp.) But did you know that, among hitters with 8,000+ plate appearances, Martinez is twelfth in on-base percentage?
He’s also number 25 all time for OPS and 21st among age 27-forward players with 67.6 WAR. (Sometimes forgotten is how comparatively late Martinez’s major league career began.) He also has the best OPS (.959) among anyone who has 2,000+ plate appearances as a designated hitter. Some call Edgar Martinez the Mariano Rivera of designated hitters.
You need a lot more than owning one Hall of Famer in waiting to get to the Hall of Fame yourself, of course. Martinez has a lot more. The new ten-year-eligibility BBWAA vote rule hurts him because—like such players as Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines—his case has needed a longer and deeper analysis. I only wish my yes vote could do him a big favour in actuality.
Mark McGwire—This is it for McGwire. His final appearance on the BBWAA ballot. And it’s farewell to McGwire’s Hall candidacy for a long enough time, thanks to his 12.3 percent vote and the ten-year rule, until a Veterans Committee offshoot considers him, if they do.
Never mind that there’s just too much evidence in favour of the argument that McGwire didn’t need actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances to do the things he did at the plate. Or, that those substances probably didn’t do a damned thing for him other than just what he has said, from the moment he finally admitted to dabbling with them: help him recover quicker from injuries.
McGwire has said coming clean was more important to him than the Hall of Fame. Incidentally, McGwire did do quite a few things well other than hitting those conversation piece home runs. One big point in his favour, for all the good it does him now–McGwire didn’t spend his years in exile protesting for profit that he was baseball’s wronged man.
Mike Mussina —He’s a classic career-value Hall of Famer in my book. Mussina should have had a better postseason career but it wasn’t entirely his fault. He pitched better than many remember him to have done in the postseason but he often lost through reasons not of his direct making. Think about this, too: if wins above a replacement level player is a valid criteria for determining a Hall of Famer, Mussina (83.0) is 9.6 WAR above the WAR of an average Hall of Fame starting pitcher. His peak value isn’t great, but for career value Mussina belongs.
Curt Schilling—His propensity to put his foot in his mouth in his retirement, so far as some people are concerned, may have soured a few voters, of course. But here’s the good news: Schilling’s Hall of Fame support bumped up from last year. Only four players other than Griffey and Piazza received 50 percent or better and Schilling was one of them.
Is Schilling a Hall of Famer? Let’s get serious. Schilling was what Jack Morris’s supporters only thought their man was: the very essence of a big-game pitcher. And I haven’t changed that thinking from the moment Schilling first entered the BBWAA Hall ballot. Voters who still weigh pitching wins heavily will hesitate on voting for Schilling, of course. But Schilling’s is one of those careers that requires a deeper look despite his gaudy looking workload and ERA+ numbers (he’s in the top fifty all time) and his spectacular postseason record.
One thing you notice when you do look deeper is this: Of his 216 wins, only nineteen could be considered “cheap” wins, wins in which he didn’t log a quality start . . . but of his 146 losses, 41 were “tough” losses—losses hung on him despitequality starts. Schilling simply didn’t have the run support and/or bullpen protection he might have had.
If you gave the final call to Jayson Stark, Schilling would go in in a walk:
I’m not sure what your definition of a Hall of Fame starter is. Mine starts with one word: Domination. Now take a look at Schilling’s career. Once he became a starting pitcher, was there a single healthy season anywhere in there when he wasn’t a dominator? Correct answer: Not a one.
He racked up nine seasons with an ERA-plus of 130 or better. The only other pitchers in the expansion era who were that good in that many seasons were Clemens (15), Randy Johnson (10) and Greg Maddux (10). Got it? Now let’s keep going.
Schilling owns the No. 1 strikeout-walk ratio (4.38 to 1) of any starting pitcher in the modern era. He finished in the top five in his league in WAR eight times. Even his detractors would admit he was one of the special October pitchers in history: 11-2, a 2.23 ERA, an incredible 0.97 WHIP, two earned runs or fewer in 16 of his 19 postseason starts. Finally, there’s this: He started five elimination games. His teams’ record: 5-0. He loved the moment. He owned the moment. He dominated the moment. That’s what Hall of Famers do.
That’s what I’ve been trying to say.
Gary Sheffield—I changed my mind about Sheffield after learning that one myth attached to him for too long simply wasn’t quite true. And I thank Jaffe of Sports Illustrated for making it clear enough.
For what seems eons Sheffield was thought to have admitted to tanking a play or three in his early Brewers seasons. True enough: Sheffield was mishandled by a Brewers organisation that had little enough clue how to handle a talented but volatile player. True enough, further: He was sent down to the minors in his rookie season and accused of faking an injury, and it finished souring him on an organisational management he already had reason to mistrust.
You might care to note that something similar happened to Jim Palmer after his rookie season, a season that climaxed with his getting to beat Sandy Koufax in the 1966 World Series. (Fair disclosure: Palmer had a little help from an unexpected friend, Willie Davis’s three errors in the fifth inning.) He ended up with shoulder trouble, went to the minors to rehorse, and was, apparently, treated disdainfully by old-schoolers who thought he, too, was either faking or overrating an injury that could have cost him his career. Palmer returned to make a Hall of Fame career and develop an unfair reputation as a hypochondriac, when all he seemed to be doing in reality was guard against the prospect of any injury being misread or abused again.
Sheffield didn’t help himself by not just burning bridges but nuking them when it was time to move on. He’d complained of a foot issue in his rookie season which the parent Brewers dismissed, but when sent down it turned out he did have a fracture in a foot bone. He filed a grievance with the players’ union over the demotion. When he was moved to the Padres in a deal in March 1991, Sheffield aired his grievances to the Los Angeles Times, saying he’d come to hate former GM Harry Dalton so that he wanted to hurt the organisation—including a jarring remark that, if an official scorer charged him with a tough error, he’d throw the next ball into the stands.
But there’s no evidence that Sheffield actually ever did tank a play with the parent club, and Bob Nightengale (then of the Times) recorded that he’d only ever done it out of anger while he was in the minors. Still, it stuck with him the rest of his career, even when reporters such as Jaffe and his SI colleague Tom Verducci investigated and turned up nothing. Nothing but one play where Sheffield overthrew a ball to first base across the infield, his minor league manager reamed him as a saboteur, then apologised to him in front of the team too late to contain the damage.
Remove that and other controversies, not to mention his reputation otherwise as a one-for-one-and-all-for-Gary player. Perhaps his early years of misuse and abuse by the Brewers made him into such a player. But he still has a Hall of Fame case, mostly at the plate, where he had to spend most of his career in home parks that usually cauterised if not smothered hitters. He wasn’t a great defender and probably cost his teams almost as many extra runs as he provided them at the plate, which also hurts his overall value and makes him rest just inside the game’s top one hundred player winning percentages.
BALCO? Give it up, folks. Sheffield has been candid about it. He told Verducci he’d been duped into using the infamous cream by being told they were legitimate arthritic balms and nutritional supplements. “When he later learned that the BALCO products were steroids,” Verducci wrote, “he told me, ‘I was mad. I want everybody to be on an even playing field’.” (Did I mention Verducci—who exposed the depth of their presence in the first place with his jarring Ken Caminiti-oriented cover story—took a harder line on actual or alleged PEDs than many writers?) Sheffield also came out in favour of formal testing at a time when the players union still resisted it.
I think Sheffield is a Hall of Famer on the merits when all is said, done, and clarified. I didn’t think he’d get in this time around, and I’ve said before he may have to wait longer, but I think he deserves a plaque and will get one, sooner or later.
Alan Trammell —Trammell didn’t make it either, and it was his last round on the ballot. His case, too, will go to a Veterans Committee subdivision: the Expansion Era committee is likely to take up his case next year.
I sat on the fence for years about him. Then, I was finally convinced: His Hall case is a career value case, and it was probably compromised by two things: 1) He doesn’t have a particular glaring big-stat benchmark. (Neither does Tim Raines, who’s getting closer to his plaque, too.) 2) His later career knee and ankle injuries probably detracted a lot of people from looking deep into his actual career value.
Trammell may also have been hurt by the one-and-done status of his long-time double play partner Lou Whitaker even though Whitaker did have a solid Hall of Fame case. (Whitaker probably shot himself in the foot, too, during the 1994 players’ strike, when he showed up for one negotiating session in a stretch limousine, which wasn’t too bright an image during a strike that was entirely the owners’ deliberate and with malice aforethought provocation.)
But according to the wins above a replacement-level player measure, Trammell is far enough above the average Hall of Fame shortstop that he shakes out as the eleventh-best shortstop of all time. That sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.
# Billy Wagner—Billy Wags threw as hard with his arm as he sometimes did with his mouth. Not only was he a top of the line relief pitcher, Wagner was actually better than a few Hall of Fame relievers. His reputation may be compromised by some of the problems he had leaving Houston and Philadelphia, not to mention his role (non-role?) in the Mets’ stupefying 2007 collapse, but Wagner was a Hall of Fame-great relief pitcher.
In fact, according to FanGraphs, Billy Wagner is the number two relief pitcher of all time in reducing run expetancy during his assignments—behind only Mariano Rivera, who’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, don’t even kid yourself otherwise. Wagner’s teams overall had that much better chance of securing a win with him on the mound.
But a man who leaves Houston zapping the team for failing to build a World Series winner, who leaves Philadelphia after spending a season insisting the team had no chance of making the postseason no matter who did what, and who couldn’t stop the 2007 Mets collapse if he tried—it emerged subsequently that Wagner was pitching through back spasms, and those Mets had just about nobody else capable of doing his job at the time—doesn’t look that obviously like a Hall of Famer.
Neither does a guy whose postseason record shows a 10.00+ ERA in several tries. But you can find a lot of other Hall of Famers who just weren’t that good in the postseason. Hell, you can find a Hall of Famer or three who wasn’t anywhere near a Hall of Famer when he pitched in the heat of a pennant race, down the stretch, or against the teams he most needed to beat to stay in the race or nail a pennant. (Don Drysdale, anyone?)
Billy Wags may actually have been better than Trevor Hoffman, who should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But I think Wagner’s going to get in sooner or later, and I offer no apology for voting for him, because he was a genuinely great pitcher.